The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Monday confirmed earlier military reports that revealed severe damage in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal caused by the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM).
“The PCG fully supports and confirms the report released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command [Wescom], exposing the severe damage inflicted upon the marine environment and coral reef in the seabed of Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal,” Coast Guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said in his X account (formerly Twitter).
He also revealed that from August 9 to September 11 this year, the PCG monitored an average presence of approximately 33 CMM vessels in the vicinity of Rozul Reef and another 15 in Escoda Shoal.
“Maritime patrols carried out during the same period by BRP Sindangan [MRRV-4407] and BRP Cabra [MRRV-4409] further validated the presence of these CMMs in these West Philippine Sea [WPS] features,” Tarriela said.
In the same period, the PCG launched missions to conduct extensive underwater surveys of the seabed in both Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal.
“The results of these surveys showed that the marine ecosystem in the subject WPS features appeared lifeless, with minimal to no signs of life. Moreover, the surveys conducted in Escoda Shoal revealed visible discoloration of its seabed, strongly indicating that deliberate activities may have been undertaken to modify the natural topography of its underwater terrain,” Tarriela noted.
He added the presence of crushed corals suggested a potential act of dumping, possibly involving the same dead corals that were previously processed and cleaned before being returned to the seabed.
“The continued swarming for an indiscriminate illegal and destructive fishing activities of the CMM in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal may have directly caused the degradation and destruction of the marine environment in the WPS features. The PCG emphasizes the importance of protecting and preserving our marine environment, which plays a crucial role in sustaining marine life and supporting local communities,” he stressed.
Earlier, Wescom air patrols on September 8 and 9 revealed a concerning resurgence of Chinese swarming activity in the WPS.
“Wescom’s comprehensive assessment of the air patrols has highlighted three areas experiencing heightened CN [Chinese] swarming activity. Rozul [Iroquois] Reef emerged as the most prominent location, with 23 CFVs [Chinese fishing vessels] observed. Additional swarming was observed in Escoda [Sabina] Shoal, where five CFVs were present, and in Baragatan [Nare] Bank, with two CFVs recorded.”
Wescom said the increased presence of CFVs raises concerns regarding the potential implications for Philippines’ maritime security, fisheries conservation, territorial integrity, and preservation of the marine environment.
It added that these activities have been a source of tension in the WPS and have contributed to instability in the region.
“Furthermore, a previous incident reported by the Philippine Navy [on] August 24 revealed that 33 CFVs were spotted in Rozul [Iroquois] Reef during a routine air patrol. Rozul Reef is located within the country’s exclusive economic zone [EEZ] and continental shelf, making this intrusion a violation of Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction. Previous swarming incidents in the area have also been followed by reports of massive coral harvesting, further raising concerns about their harmful environmental impact,” Wescom said.
The air patrol also reported swarming activity in Escoda (Sabina) Shoal, which is also located within the Philippine EEZ and serves as a marker for the approach to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
This is where unauthorized Chinese shadowing of Philippine watercraft typically occurs.
“The repeated swarming incidents in both Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal emphasize the continuous violation of Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its western border,” Wescom noted.